To celebrate Jack’s 21st birthday, here’s Emma Corlett”s great piece from Turnstile Blues issue 6 about taking him to watch ITFC as a small boy. Happy birthday, Jack.
I’m always intrigued to hear the many ways that people end up supporting the team that they do. I’d always assumed that it’s something passed down through families – but I’m guessing many of you reading this will not have fallen in love with Ipswich through being brought along by a parent. That though, was my way in. Dad started bringing me and my younger brother to Portman Road in 1986. We were both lifted over the turnstiles, with whoever was behind us in the queue passing over our milk crates. We stood at the Churchmans’ end of the Pioneer stand for the first half (so long as Ipswich were attacking that way), then at half time carried our milk crates up to the North Stand end to watch the second half. I fell in love with the experience of going to watch football immediately. I found out for the first time that my Dad not only knew some swear words, but actually used them out loud. I learned that it is possible to leave home (the other side of Bury St. Edmunds) at 2.20pm and manage to still get in for kick off (usually). Dad was working all hours of the day and night trying to prevent (unsuccessfully it turned out in the end – thanks Maggie!) the engineering factory that he managed from closing down. These few snatched moments and hair-raisingly fast journeys along the A45 were as much as we got to see him for several years. Me and my brother fell in love with trying to guess the size of the crowd, being sent to get autographs of players we’d never heard of, such as Allan Hunter and Brian Talbot, and listening to Dad tell us what they were like when he watched them play. We loved learning the words of chants, bit by bit joining in as our confidence grew and we found our own voices. I loved the spontaneity, how everyone just seemed to instinctively know when to join in. Mostly I loved (and still do) hearing “W” pronounced “wubble yew”. My first heroes were Ian Atkins, Mark Brennan, Mich D’Avray and Jason Dozzell. Dad was never sniffy about the players me and brother became obsessed with. He knew how lucky he’d been to follow Ipswich around Europe and see us lift the UEFA cup. He never once said that these players weren’t a patch on previous ones or how it was better in his day…. he just left us to fall in love with what was in front of us. Because it’s all that was on offer. On the Saturdays that Ipswich were away, Dad often took us to Layer Road. Colchester is Dad’s home town, so we used to tie it in with a visit to Grandma. No need to be carried over the turnstiles here, as someone Dad knew used to open the side gate and let us all in for free. We never took milk crates to Layer Road. Perhaps Dad was hoping we wouldn’t be tall enough to witness the, at times, shockingly awful football we were being subjected to. Ipswich was my true love, but I got to learn far better swears from the Bar Siders. As we got older we started going to games with friends, sometimes still with Dad, sometimes on our own. My youngest sister joined us. We started going to away games – the odd one with Dad but more often on my own on the Bury Branch supporters’ coach. Our ITFC apron strings were severed, and gradually Dad stopped going. His reasons being a combination of administration (“shafting local businesses,”) the arrival of Evans (“don’t like the way he’s running things”) and the final straw being the appointment of Roy Keane as manager (“I’m never going again”). And he hasn’t. I have had the privilege of passing on to someone what Dad passed on to us. I started bringing my friend’s son Jack to Portman Road early in 1998 when he was four years old. We were all living in Norwich. He wanted to go to football. He was given the choice of going to Norwich with his Norwich supporting uncle, or Ipswich with me. After a few days of weighing up his options, he decided on Ipswich “as that’s where Nanny and Grandad live”. A reason as simple as that, and a lucky escape. I carried Jack over the turnstiles into the North Stand. No need for a milk crate to stand on though, that’s what my seat was for. I carried him in this way until the end of the 2000 promotion season, when he was getting too big to carry and things weren’t quite so relaxed in the Premier League. It was always about more than just going to the football though. I loved spending time with Jack, and my group of friends that I went to games with made a real fuss of him and made him feel like the centre of our worlds. It also gave his Mum, who was training as a nurse with me, the chance to sleep after the extra night shifts she was regularly working to try and make ends meet.
There are a few moments that melt my heart when I think about them… and this is the privilege: being able to experience aspects of football through the eyes of a child. The excitement of an evening kick off and incessant questions: “Is there still half time at night games? Is the ball the same colour at night?” Driving him to his first away game at Port Vale in August 1998, his wide-eyed astonishment at seeing big factory chimneys by the M6 motorway: “Wow, is that where Homer Simpson works?” When the teams came out at Wembley, as the fire works went off I felt a tugging at my shirt. I picked Jack up and he said, “I’m going to remember this game for my whole life”. I cried then, and it makes me cry now! His over-excitement when Fabian Wilnis scored against Manchester United: “a bit of wee has just come out” (sorry Jack!). And of course I taught him the off-side rule. Oh, and he learnt to swear, and swear well. I naively thought it was great for Jack to be surrounded by all these positive male role models. My season ticket happened to be next to my sweariest friend. I dropped him off back at his grandparents after one game. The dog jumped up at us, and six year old Jack said “get down Billy you c*nt.” What a conversation stopper, and poor Jack had no idea what he’d just said. There’s no reason why he would have known it was a problem – having spent the afternoon listening to my friend call Richard Naylor just that all afternoon. I did frantic apologising, and they let me carry on bringing him to football. Me and Jack struck a deal about swearing staying at the football from then on.
Football provided other great experiences. I arranged for Jack to be away mascot at Manchester City. You remember that game, the rainiest one ever? Jack didn’t have any football boots (buying the kit and petrol to the game had been struggle enough) and Mark Venus looked at me accusingly in the tunnel, seeing Jack’s flimsy trainers he snapped at me, “Hasn’t he got any proper boots?” Err, no as it happens. A £380 a month bursary to train as a nurse doesn’t really stretch to that kind of luxury. So we got soaked, missed the goal changing in to dry clothes in the tunnel, and by the time we got in to the away end the game had been abandoned. It turned out OK though, as Jack got the chance to be mascot again away at Everton when we won 3-0. He warmed up with Paul Gascoigne, who was absolutely great with all the mascots (although he did give Jack a kick as punishment for Jack somehow managing to nutmeg him). Gradually, as I did with my Dad, Jack and I stopped going to games together. I wanted to stay in the lower north stand, and Jack couldn’t afford it because of the lack of concession priced tickets. So he moved his season ticket upstairs, from where he now watches games with his lovely step-dad. He also has his own son now, so maybe he’ll get to coerce him into falling in love with Ipswich too. Yes, each of us deprived the club of a bit of income through our over the turnstiles antics but we became hooked and therefore dutiful paying customers. I’d hate to add up how much money me, my brother and Jack have spent watching Ipswich since. I’ve had a season ticket for about 24 years, and Jack for 11 years, add on the replica kits, half time food & drink and club shop tat. The club did OK out of it. I’d love to be able to repeat these experiences with my own eight year old daughter. Competition is fierce though, as her Dad has a season ticket in the Barclay End at Carrow Road and we live in Norwich. I’ve got my work cut out. She’d been to one game at each place – a third round FA cup game a few seasons ago – and not really shown any interest since. She came with me to the pub before our first game of the season against Fulham, and was going to play with a friend while I went to the game. To my total surprise, she asked to come to the game with me. I know that there aren’t any concession priced tickets in the lower North Stand, so I was quite happy to pay full price for her. She could stand on my seat and in my mind she’d fall in love with the experience and noise of the North Stand, just as Jack had done. We didn’t even make it as far as my seat. Stopped on the steps by the first steward. “How old is she?” “Eight, why?” “You have to be 12 to sit in here.” “But she’s just going to sit on my lap, this is where my season ticket is.” “Sorry, I don’t make the rules. She’s not coming in.” So I asked to speak to a more senior steward. This one told me that the age restriction was 16 and that it was “FA regulations.” I laughed. “In which case, can you provide me a copy of these FA regulations now, in writing please?” She started back tracking: “Err, well, it’s the club rules, not the FA. We’ve got a duty of care.” “Well, I have parental responsibility and a duty of care for my daughter, and I judge that she can quite safely sit with me.” “But the language can be quite bad in here.” “I know that. If I didn’t want my daughter to hear swearing I wouldn’t bring her to a football match (or as a friend pointed out, with you as a mother if you didn’t want her to hear swearing you wouldn’t ever speak in front of her). Anyway, some of the worst and homophobic language I’ve ever heard here has been in the family enclosure.” At this point, as I was getting increasingly exasperated my daughter burst in to tears. The steward patronisingly said, “Poor thing, doesn’t she like the noise?” Actually, she’s OK with noise – she slept through our band rehearsals from a few months old and has been to plenty of gigs and festivals. And I hate to break it to that steward, but the North Stand isn’t actually that noisy these days. What upset her was that “a fuss” was being made and she knew it was related to her presence. Grudgingly I agreed to go sit in the top tier with her. I’m still angry that if I want to share my love of football with my daughter I would have to move away from the seat that I like, and the friends that I have sat among for years. She seemed to enjoy the game in the end, and declared Murphy her favourite player because a) he scored a goal, b) our cat is called Murphy, c) he “looks like he tells the truth,” d) he has nice boots. Since then though she has said she never wants to go and watch Ipswich again. She didn’t like that “people weren’t friendly.” She’s also found out that Norwich have TWO players called Murphy. If I’m honest, I don’t even know if I want her to fall in love with Ipswich or football at all. Everything is becoming so sterile, bland, stage-managed, lowest common denominator. I’m falling out of love with football, so maybe this was for the best. Or maybe Dad will save the day and start taking her to watch Colchester United.